By Grace Broad
At the beginning of last week, I met with author and activist Uuganaa Ramsay via Zoom to discuss white privilege, our unconscious bias and her successful book; Mongol. After moving to the UK for her work, Uuganaa has worked as a career advisor in Scotland since 2005. She is all too familiar with the unconscious bias that forces limitation on career opportunities. We discussed why these biases have come to exist and the danger of false perceptions.
Much of the problem comes down to the careers we are guided towards at school. A lack of diversity within schools and mentorship leads to perception-based career advice. This advice is merely fueled by stereotypes; not fact. Certain minority ethnic groups are ranked higher than others on the academic table; while other groups are assumed to focus on having a family.
When I asked Uuganaa how career advisors can actively challenge racism in society, she tells me it comes down to positive actions. A lack of relatable role models, in-school workshops and work experience leaves many students without support. Although many support networks do exist, there is still not enough awareness surrounding these. If these resources were made more accessible for all, there could be fewer issues. As Uuganaa pointed out to me; inclusivity can only occur when our privilege and power is shared. People from minority ethnic groups tend to be overlooked and it can be difficult to constantly justify that you are good enough, just to access the work-experience or support you need.
A large reason why this discrimination trickles down from generation to generation, is that we still don’t really understand what it means to be unintentionally prejudiced. The same argument repeats itself again and again:
“But if I believe in equality, how can I be covertly racist?”
The best way to take control is to be self-aware. When you are aware of these perceptions and assumptions already formed in the mind, you can ask yourself: am I being quick to make judgements? During our meeting, Uuganaa put this into the most simple but effective words: “See people for who they are – not as we are.”
Everything starts with a narrative. In this case, the narrative is the description or label we attach to other groups in society. This narrative is rarely formed through lived experiences, but instead the politics we are fed and the media we digest.
Question: in the media, news, etc. which people do I see the most? Do these people look like me? Which opinions are most represented? Do these opinions represent me?
By changing the narrative we hold about others, we prevent discrimination from taking place; even if we do not realise that it is happening. By changing the narrative, we also refuse to let false stereotypes win.
Uuganaa reminds me that another important narrative we hold, is the one we keep about ourselves. A negative narrative makes too much room for self-destruction. By allowing ourselves to be free from our own labels, or the roles we are told we slot into, there is no barrier against what can be achieved.